Legislators voted on Monday to pull Government advertising and cease any commercial activity with the Cayman Compass newspaper in response to an editorial which Premier Alden McLaughlin has described as “treasonous.”
The premier again condemned the editorial about corruption in the territory, published Wednesday, June 3, saying it was a “full frontal assault on the Cayman Islands and its people” as he gave his support to economic sanctions against the newspaper.
Following the premier’s accusations on Friday, Mr. Legge and his wife, co-publisher Vicki Legge, were placed under police protection and left the island temporarily.
The newspaper dedicated its front page on Monday to an image, “in memoriam” of free speech in the Cayman Islands.
East End legislator Arden McLean, who brought the motion Monday night to cease commercial activity with the Compass, had a message for Mr. Legge.
“Stop destroying our country and running it down,” he said. “Tombstones? We have to be careful about how we plant them and whose name appear upon them.”
Several other legislators condemned the original editorial, which suggested Cayman’s leaders had been slow to respond to allegations of bribery within FIFA, involving Cayman soccer official Jeffrey Webb, in part because corruption was so commonplace in the territory that people were slow to recognize it.
Sports Minister Osbourne Bodden said, “I think it is only in the Cayman Islands that such an act could be done and such a peaceful revolution take place. Most times when this happens people are run out of town.”
Politicians agreed to suspend the usual standing orders, governing Legislative Assembly procedure, on Monday night to bring the motion against the Compass during a hearing of Finance Committee to discuss the country’s annual budget.
The motion brought by Mr. McLean alters and supersedes a similar motion brought by the same legislator on Friday which was mis-phrased to suggest the opposite intent.
Mr. McLean’s new motion, supported 11-0 by the legislators present, with the United Democratic Party legislators McKeeva Bush and Bernie Bush abstaining, stated:
“Be it therefore resolved that this honorable Finance Committee condemn the editorial of Wednesday 3 June, 2015 and the subsequent actions of the Cayman Compass, the island’s only daily newspaper, by resolving to immediately cease all government advertising or any other commercial activity by ministries, portfolios, departments, government entities, government owned companies and statutory authorities with the Cayman Compass, its parent company, if any and its affiliates.”
Government currently uses the newspaper to advertise jobs, tenders for government contracts, planning applications and other public notices. It also uses one of the Compass’s sister companies to print various things, including official election ballots.
Some legislators expressed concern about how it would look internationally and how it might affect jobs at the newspaper and its printing business.
Independent George Town MLA Roy McTaggart said, “I know there could be consequences for people locally, and there could be consequences internationally by all that has gone on, but I firmly believe there are times in one’s life when you have to stand up and be counted.”
Mr. McTaggart then voted in favor of the motion, as did fellow independent George Town MLA Winston Connolly.
The editorial in question described corruption as too commonplace in Cayman, calling it an insidious, creeping crime.
Mr. McLean’s relationship with the newspaper has been strained since last year when he was the subject of news stories and editorials that revealed that he had used his government credit card to buy a diamond-studded ladies watch. Mr. McLean, who defended himself at the time by producing receipts to show he had paid the money back, said his bringing the motion was not personal and denied that it was an effort to suppress freedom of the press.